Football: Arsenal must counter at speed against Manchester City in League Cup final

Arsenal's Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and team-mates at a training session.
Arsenal's Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and team-mates at a training session.PHOTO: REUTERS/ACTION IMAGES

Arsenal need that rarely used tactic if they are to overcome Man City in the League Cup final

The bare facts are that Manchester City lost only two of their first 41 matches this season.

Lose two in two within seven days and the supposed quadruple will become, at best, a double.

If this has the potential to be their campaign's worst week, it could also be the start of a silver rush.

Plenty of people, Pep Guardiola among them, have pointed out that his City have not won anything. That should change tomorrow .

Unless Arsenal's evolution into a Cup team continues. Once the criticism was Arsene Wenger had stopped winning trophies. Now, while he has never lifted the League Cup, it could provide a fourth major honour in five seasons.

Yet while it would temporarily silence the fans who want him gone, the respite tends to be temporary.

The paradox of this Arsenal team is that they have the worst record in big-six league meetings, but have beaten each of their peers in their three successful FA Cup campaigns.

They eliminated Chelsea last month; now for City, their victims in last season's FA Cup semi-final. Wenger has managed tactical masterclasses in the domestic Cups, but rarely in the league.

A rematch could be determined from the dugout. Both managers' motivational prowess will be examined after defeats by Wigan and Ostersunds. Their choices will be pivotal. Wenger will surely not revert to the back three he used against City at Wembley.

Instead, there is a vacancy in his front trio in his 4-3-3. Minus the injured Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey and the cup-tied Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he must decide between Alex Iwobi and the out-of-sorts Danny Welbeck, who has more big-game pedigree.

Whoever starts, a team often guilty of overplaying have an incentive to shoot. While both reserve goalkeepers will play, Arsenal's David Ospina is little worse than Petr Cech whereas City's Claudio Bravo is far inferior to Ederson.

Wigan only had one shot on target when they beat City. Typically, Bravo did not save it.

Arsenal ought to attack City's left flank. They are without their two preferred left-backs. Guardiola may opt for right-back Danilo over converted winger Oleksandr Zinchenko.

His other test is one of loyalty: are League Cup regulars such as Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva benched to make the side stronger?

But if his decisions purely relate to personnel, Wenger's are also tactical. Arsenal are accustomed to having more possession. Not tomorrow. They might have to play without the ball.

As they cannot replicate the high-paced pressing game Liverpool used to beat City, Wenger's side may have to defend with concentration and in numbers and counter-attack at speed. It is an approach they have rarely adopted in the last decade.

It will be key if they are to extend their golden Wembley run.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'Gunners must counter at speed'. Print Edition | Subscribe